I have to admit that I knew nothing about the Sierra Madre before I started reading this book. And now that I've finished, I understand more about the reasons behind why many Mexicans flee to the USA. The author of this book is a writer from London who charmed his way through the Sierra Madre in order to write about it. He said that he "began to enjoy that edgy, adrenaline-hyped feeling that comes with pushing your luck in a place you don't belong, getting by on your wits and charm and trying to make sense of it all at the same time." This book is the story of the author's travels including digging for gold, picking up hitchhikers for safety, and lots of beer.
When Cortez first returned from conquering Mexico, the king asked him to describe the newly-conquered land. He's said to have wadded up a piece of paper and thrown it on the table to show the mountains of the Sierra Madre which dominate the geography of the western side of the country. These mountains would be nearly impossible to police even if the police weren't corrupt and ready to take bribes.
For most part, the Sierra Madre is a lawless place full of drugs and murder. The author says that Mexico now has "a hillbilly vendetta culture that [is:] up to its eyeballs in the world's most murderous business enterprise: illegal narcotics." The murder rate has increased as the drug money has given people money to buy trucks, guns, alcohol, and cocaine. The average person in the Sierra Madre has had upward of 20 friends killed for no good reason. One in 6 of the inhabitants of the region are female because the males have either been killed in drunken brawls or for fun or they've gone to the USA to seek their fortunes with illegal jobs rather than through farming and selling drugs. While $10 billion of Mexico's yearly income comes from Mexicans working in the USA to support their family back in Mexico, $50 billion comes from selling illegal drugs in the USA.
According to Grant, the Sierra Madre is a place where women expect their men to cheat on them but would be killed for doing likewise. Rape is commonplace and many rapists marry their young victims. It's also a place where drunken,cocaine-dazed narcos
sometimes tend toward bi-sexuality if they can find a partner. And cross-dressing cowboys become legends in their own right.
The area has it's own religious superstitions which are interwoven with ideas brought in by Christian missionaries. Most of the religion is somehow connected to beer and violence. Some of the Tarahumara religious Easter rituals the author describes are beyond bizarre. A statue of Judas is paraded around with a bladder full of beer and a protruding male body part. A grandmother chases around her grandson with a corn cob. The Virgin Mary's statue is covered so that she can't see the murder of her son. God and Satan duke it out in a drinking bout. In fact, the title of the book comes from one of the statues of God that the Tarahumaras have in which all but the middle finger of God has been broken off.
All my naivete about Mexico has been completely erased with this book such that I may never want to go back. While I'm sure not all of Mexico is so bad, I'd not want to push my luck. And I think the author's curiosity about the Sierra Madre was quite satisfied after being chased through the mountains by homicidal drunks as his journey came to an end. My only complaint about this book would be that I wish the author had included photographs. The book itself was highly readable and entertaining.